Over the Salal Fields And Far Away

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestIt was dripping; the sun shrouded by cloud, the cloud returning to damp where dew ran with rain and rain soaked into thick rivulets of sand. All these paths led to a tempest of gray salt, growling together as an always-temperamental Northwest coastline. We shouldered our loads, pack mules down scree slopes, each step sinking into the shifting earth.

The first day was different. From the golden sun reflecting off a classic green pearl, a perfect wave was ridden with friends yelping like small creatures in a wide world. Slowly, in its own time, the swell built into a fortress of play. A soft offshore breeze told ancient stories of the last days of summer, like secrets spoken only to the two of us out that morning.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestWalking off the beach, skin tensing from the drying salt water, we turned and marveled at the temptation we left, but the promise of additional companions and a new adventure forced us back through the thick fern fronds and salal fields that guarded those secrets. We pulled into a freshwater bay to meet our other companions: Sam from Ocean Beach and Kris from hometown.

As we spread our gear across the gravel, we reveled in what was just had and the anticipation of what was to come—a sea of imagination. Tents and tarps; jackets and neoprene layers; stoves, filtration systems and amenities; all stuffed into bear canisters and assertively packed within the confines of four new SealLine expedition packs. Canoes and paddles, boards, wetsuits, a small wooden door, screwdriver and hardware made the trip. Finally, amenities for the sun and the cold: beer.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestEach canoe weighed heavy in the soft mud as the four of us laughed, organized and inspected everything. We had the gear and a malleable plan. Now we needed waves. Under a milky afternoon, still with high, wafting clouds, we embarked waters teaming with perch, pikeminnow, coastal cutthroats and kokanee to a point of cache and then further across deeper waters into the middle of nowhere.

This was our annual expedition in search of far-away waves—often not there, often there. We scanned bays and points, searched maps and planned routes. One year the Lost Coast Range, another south to Baja. This year we wanted to stay home and discover the little-known secrets of our wild backyard.

On far western shores we moored the vessels under thick drooping cedar boughs and trekked into the shadows, dusk above us and wet bog beneath. We slipped on decaying boardwalks, falling sideways and forward as we toddled, drawn to the roar of a thundering ocean a mile away. Our boards acted like crutches under our arms and our thick waterproof packs like mattresses. As the trail rose and fell, twisting through the forest terrain and between protective eight-foot-tall salal fields, we were in a florist’s dreamland, as well as our own. Suddenly, darkness gorged upon the remaining light, birds fell still and night insects began their choir. Surf hissed as it crashed upon salty shores. Thousands upon thousands of pounds of hypertension breaking, tumbling over and over one another. The animals, the dripping canopy, the ancient muttering streams tinged brown by Fall leaves was drowned by excitement.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestCamp One welcomed us with an evening storm that lulled us to sleep with the soft, synthetic patter of raindrops on nylon. As we emerged into the light of day two, all was sodden, the leaching wetness of winter – the rotting season. Nothing remained dry outside our expedition packs. And as we cooked packets of instant oatmeal, we scanned the angry horizon for signs of contour.

North was a mark on the map, a point, as well as lingering deer tame enough to comb with a pick. South was a bay with few signs of humanity and, straight west, into the heart of the Pacific was a madness of gray matter combusting without pattern, ending in a wall of white frigidity. So we checked north. We ventured south. And came to the conclusion over much deliberation, pseudo-scientific nonsense and amateur forecasting that south was the answer to our dreams. There, miles from camp we witnessed a clean, A-frame peak dashing itself upon a hardened black shoals, falling to rest after its long journey. So we tore like madmen, over silky seaweed and mounds of purple bear scat back to camp in a rush to beat a pulsing tide. Packed a little lighter, we double-time over bleached-tree graveyards, through gaping stone holes and slippery cavernous passages.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestCamp Two was a sand bank, a small cove of great fortune that was ours, alone, for four days. From this vantage point, we watched the sea. Corduroy lines of swell marched like infantry. That clean A-frame was gone, replaced by a meaty little slab.

Wet in the water and wet ashore, the weather carpeted the coastline each passing day. We ate food the consistency of porridge and drank small cups of instant coffee. Shaded by the rainforest above, picking our way through fern and salal below, we scoured for any bits of dry wood we could find. At the end, we divvied the remaining food and gear between us to lighten our return. Mosses and lichen draped over any uncovered surface.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestThese instances were often the most memorable, the time away from time where scrutiny of an industrial civilization weighed weight upon a ticking time bomb. Omniscient and harmonious was the mind, free to soar in solitude like the eagles above, and glide like a Pelican upon the updraft of rolling sea. We found more scat; bear, raccoon, coyote. We stepped over the skins of dogfish and collected Japanese plastics from disasters far away and seemingly long ago. Then we ended.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestThe morning of our departure, the sun broke and alighted our long playful shadows across the sand as we slipped northward towards Camp One, back through the fern forest and salal fields to a freshwater point. We had work to do.

As we paddled towards our cache near a hollowed-out burnt cedar remnant, abandoned hundreds of years ago by the People of the Canoe, a fire blazed in a clear-cut swathe just over the park boundary lines. It filled the lake’s reflection an even deeper brown, eerily reminding us of the forgotten emptiness that now lies still on the coastal banks, watching the same shoal morph and erode with the ocean’s power.

© Cameron Karsten Photography of surfing the Washington coast, Pacific NorthwestWe slid onto the sandy beach, found our stores of wood and hardware, beer and fire, and set to work. Skyler repaired the lean-to with his fashioned door. Sam built a hot fire of cedar wood and lava rock, while Kris fashioned a shovel to carry the stones from heat to shelter. Over the course of three hours we took turns bathing in the sweet sweat of a traditional sauna, removing all traces of bitter cold from our bones. And then just before dusk we set off for home, just as we had done days prior when we entered the shadows of fern and salal that guarded the undiscovered surf in the wilds of our backyard.

The Last Great Wild Place

The Olympic National Park is in my mind one of the last great wild places on earth. It’s absolutely remarkable with thick rich flora and fauna, and some of the last largest stands of trees. To venture into its rivers is an experience in and of itself, especially when you’re walking with two great anglers. Dylan Tomine and Nate Mantua are highly educated about the remaining wild fisheries around the world, especially the great steelhead runs along the West Coast. With Sage and Patagonia, I had the opportunity to spend two days wandering up and down the tributaries with them, and a host of other wildlife.

 

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Seattle Times Op-Ed: Indigenous knowledge is critical to understanding climate change

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

As we prepare to join Saturday’s March for Science, please understand that by integrating traditional knowledge with Western science, we can solve some of our biggest challenges, including those brought by our changing climate.

Good science is critical to our health, ability to live full lives and community well-being. We use science to advance medicine, enhance our use of natural resources, ensure our food supply and much more. That’s why more than a million people around the world joined the March for Science in 2017 and why we are gearing up again to march for science on April 14.

Western science is just one way of knowing. Indeed, traditional knowledge and wisdom of indigenous peoples is recognized by the United Nations for its potential to sustainably manage complex ecosystems. Yet all too often, Western science has disregarded centuries of science-based knowledge coming from Native Americans and other indigenous peoples.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

Indigenous peoples have lived in our particular locations for many generations, and we define ourselves in relation to our home environment. Our deep and long-standing relationships with the environment are unique; our very existence depends on our ability to conserve and maintain our lands and waters for future generations.

Today, tribes, First Nations, indigenous peoples and Aboriginals are sounding a loud alarm about the impacts of climate change. Rising sea levels, broken natural systems, and increasing fire and flooding are apparent and documented.

For example, stocks of many fish species like Pacific hake are sensitive to ocean temperature along the California Current, and recent declines in their numbers have serious implications for the well-being of my own Makah Tribe.

While others debate the causes of climate change, we who live close to the land are experiencing major impacts from our changing climate and call for immediate and strong action to protect the resources on which we all rely. We can’t afford to disregard indigenous knowledge about climate change.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

Growing up as a member of the Makah Tribe, I relied on the empirical knowledge of my ancestors to determine where to fish and how to locate other sources of food. My community relied on indigenous experiences to understand how to keep ourselves healthy.

When I was a child, my father taught me to navigate our ocean territory through currents, tides and landmarks. This knowledge, along with the life cycle of fish and time of year, allowed for the successful, sustainable harvest of species such as halibut, black cod and lingcod. In the years that followed, my peers and I transferred knowledge to other members of the family who integrated the information into current fishing and management practices.

As a youth, I’d get up in the mornings, often before sunrise, and leave the house overlooking a beach. There was no backpack, no lunch box. I was taught what our land would provide through all the seasons: roots, berries, sea urchins and mussels, to name a few. The knowledge of how, where and when to harvest is a way of life, always done in a manner that ensures the resources are sustained for the next person. These teachings and values laid the foundation for the work I completed in tribal leadership.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

To our north, Tlingit and Haida elders observe young herring following older herring to spawning grounds. When industrial fishing removes the elder herring from spawning sites, the stock is destroyed, as the young fish can no longer find their way home. Failure to heed these traditional observations is leading to the demise of herring and threatening aspects of Tlingit and Haida culture that are closely tied to herring.

A recent news item featured the astonishing observation that birds in Australia intentionally spread fire by carrying burning sticks. While this is fascinating, it has long been known to the Aboriginals. Using fire as a management tool is widespread throughout indigenous cultures. Makah is no exception. For centuries our ancestors used fire to manage crops of cranberries and tea. These resources are currently threatened by our changing climate, as well as the laws and regulations that govern the use of fire.

© Cameron Karsten Photography The Nature Conservancy at the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA with Tribal member TJ

Respecting and embracing indigenous knowledge as important science benefits all of us. In looking for solutions to the environmental dilemmas that confront us, it is critical to apply indigenous knowledge. All of us are looking for a better understanding of the Earth and her ecosystems. By integrating traditional knowledge with Western science, together we can solve some of our biggest challenges, including those brought by our changing climate.

As communities worldwide prepare to March for Science, this focus is appropriate and important. Threats to scientific knowledge must be rejected, and decision making based on fact must be embraced. Equally important, we should also embrace 10,000-plus years of field observation by indigenous peoples around the world.

This empirical knowledge has sustained people and cultures and has laid the groundwork for many modern “discoveries.” Indigenous peoples are truly the experts of their area and place, with a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of nature and our role in conserving resources for future generations.

Original Post (April 10, 2018)

Tearsheet: Seattle Met’s “Secrets of the Olympic Peninsula” Feature

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Jane S., Seattle Met’s Art Director, called and sent me out on a little circuitous route on the Olympic Peninsula. I was happy to oblige, as jumping in my Tacoma with a cab packed of camera gear and a bed setup for camping, is one of my simplest pleasures. Below are the resulting images. But first a quick write up about “How We Got Those Shots” in the Behind The Scenes section:

“There is never enough time, especially when it comes to visiting one of the many outdoor escapes our state has to offer. Fortunately, photographer Cameron Karsten – who is that perfect combination of avid outdoorsman and stellar photographer – is no stranger to the Olympic Peninsula, star of this month’s cover story. The photo on our table of contents is from a fishing trip Karsten took, and the surf shot you’ll find in the feature is of one of his buddies. Of course, being near the coast means weather is always a factor. Karsten’s visit in early June was no exception. There were slight breaks in the clouds, but the sky stayed frustratingly gray and rainy. Which brings me to the cover; while Cameron did get some striking photos of the peninsula’s famous Tree of Life, our web editor (and occasional staff photographer), Alison Klein, happened to be camping there the week prior – and captured some sun-soaked-near-dusk shots we just couldn’t resist.” – Jane S., Seattle Met art director

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And for a better view:

Olympic Penninsula Top 25 for Seattle Met

Olympic Penninsula Top 25 for Seattle Met

Olympic Penninsula Top 25 for Seattle Met

Olympic Penninsula Top 25 for Seattle Met

Olympic Penninsula Top 25 for Seattle Met

Olympic Penninsula Top 25 for Seattle Met

Olympic Penninsula Top 25 for Seattle Met

Olympic Penninsula Top 25 for Seattle Met

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STORMR Deer Camp: Into the Hoh Rainforest (Pt. IV)

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When there is a river nearby, there must be fish. Always bring your fly rod, seek the thrill and reel in those steelhead. Somewhere up the S. Fork Hoh River on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State on a Stormr assignment.

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STORMR Deer Camp: Into the Hoh Rainforest (Pt. II)

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It rained and then it poured. With STORMR gear, the woodsmen were kept warm as a low ceiling of clouds passed, and dry as the hiking became arduous with sweat and fatigued. Heavy ferns draped in our path while carpets of green moss stretched before us. Animal trails were easy to find, their beaten paths the only thing breaking the wildness of the Hoh Rainforest. These led us to the wide open swaths of America’s logging industry.

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Cameron Karsten Photography

STORMR Deer Camp: Into the Hoh Rainforest (Pt. I)

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Recently, I ventured into the Hoh Rainforest with STORMR foul-weather gear for a 4-day 3-night adventure. With four woodsmen we explored a sodden mossy wilderness furthest from humanity. These are the western edges of the Olympic Peninsula; a place so remote and ecologically diverse that it could be considered its own evolutionary island.

What we were in search of was the elusive black-tail buck. What we discovered were torrential downpours, rivers full of returning steelhead and King salmon, as well as pockets of clear-cut forests amidst pristine woodlands of idyllic nature where migratory elk bugled near the trails of deer, bear, and cougar scat.

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For more visit www.STORMRrusa.com and www.CameronKarsten.com

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Cameron Karsten Photography

STORMR Campaign: Olympic Wildness Pt. III

_N9A4726After a night’s rest, the men returned to the waters, this day wading into the flowing waters of the Olympic tributaries. Their STORMR foul-weather gear proved protective and durable as fishermen Simon Pollack and Skyler Vella threw flies before returning steelhead and salmon.

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For a complete portfolio, please visit www.CameronKarsten.com

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STORMR Campaign: Olympic Wildness – Pt. II

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Fishermen Simon Pollack and Skyler Vella reload and reseek the elusive steelhead within the Wild Olympics on a recent campaign for STORMR foul-weather gear.

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For a complete portfolio, please visit www.CameronKarsten.com

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Olympic Day Hiking – The Brothers

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Spent a sunny summer day hiking to the base of The Brothers on the Olympic Peninsula, reaching just above the tree-line before running out of time.  An hour and twenty minutes up to Lena Lake and then an additional three hours upwards.  We passed below massive pines and wound through streams that disappeared beneath the riverbeds.

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Cameron Karsten Photography